In honor of Thanksgiving I wanted to write about the person who embodies gratitude to me. I just happen to be his mom and I should be his teacher, but when it comes to this area he is the one who teaches me on the daily.
When we were in the adoption process for our eldest son, sometimes I would find myself thinking about what the future would look like for us... what if he never walks? what if he never talks? what if people look at him with disgust or pity?
These thoughts would enter my mind, but in the moment, nothing seemed to matter except getting him home. I knew there would be hard days ahead for us, but I knew that no matter how hard our life may become, it wouldn't hold a candle to how hard this little boy's life had been and would continue to be, if we let our fear get in the way of showing him the relentless love of Jesus. I truly thought that all I would need to do is look into his deep brown eyes and the love I had for him would overshadow all of our fears and doubts, and it wouldn't matter what anyone else thought. I imagined when others saw the love we had for him and the joy he brought to us that it would change their hearts.
Months later I would find myself in a little apartment in Kiev, Ukraine with my newly adopted son, Ryan had returned to the US weeks prior. We were just waiting on his passport and then we could head home and begin our new life as a family of 4.
Instead of the blissful excitement I imagined I would feel at this point, I just felt numb most of the time. Instead of the strength I imagined I would feel at the end of our long adoption process, I just felt weakness. Instead of the joyful anticipation I imagined I would feel, I felt scared of all of the unknowns.
One day, I decided that we had to get out of the apartment. Yes, we would go for a walk. At first the fresh air felt so refreshing, but then I began walking, and what I thought would calm and entertain my son, only agitated him to the point where he was pushing his feet against the sidewalk to hinder the stroller from moving and screaming his little lungs out. When I say screaming, I mean SCREEEEEAMING!!!!
I felt stuck. I felt exposed.
I tried to act like it wasn't a big deal, but eventually, the disgusted stares of others got to me, In that moment I wasn't thinking about his deep brown eyes or how much I loved him, in that moment I just wanted him to stop. I wanted to scream at all the faces staring that "you are the ones who did this to him!! It was your choice to lock away and neglect, instead of accept and love, that did this to him!! But instead of doing that, I stopped and went around to face my child, with tears in my eyes I begged him to stop screaming. I begged him to be quiet. Without realizing it, I begged him to conform.
I knew he was scared, overwhelmed, and grieving losing everything and everyone he had known, but in that moment I just wanted him to be quiet so people would stop staring.
There would be many many more times in our relationship where I would choose to listen to societies form of normal over my child's unique voice; if I'm honest, I still do this sometimes.
Ivan is no longer that terrified little boy in the umbrella stroller. He has come such a long way in feeling safe and finding his voice, but he still does not understand society's desire for him to conform to a certain standard.
No matter what is going on, he always takes the time to stop, tell someone hello, and ask how their day is going. He doesn't realize he lives in a society that is constantly rushing and covering up truth with quick handed, "I'm good's". One of his siblings teachers told us the other day that he stopped her in the hall to tell her she is beautiful. The tears in her eyes were evidence that people just don't do that, don't say things like that as much as we need to hear them. When he hears that one of his classmates is sick, he will make everyone stop so he can pray for them. He does not realize that isn't welcome in public schools, nor does he feel uncomfortable expressing his simple faith filled prayers. He needs help transitioning from his wheelchair to the toilet, and without fail he always thanks whoever is helping him. He doesn't realize that at 11 years old he shouldn't need someone to help him wipe his bum. He is not embarrassed or upset by his need for help. He is simply grateful for the people in his life, and their willingness to be there for him.
When people look at Ivan, people who don't truly know him, they only see a child in a wheelchair. They see a child who is behind his peers. They see a child who doesn't meet the standard of normal or healthy. People who don't know Ivan see his DISability, but when I look at Ivan I see a standard that I want to live UP to. I see his abiltiy to truly see people, how he cares about others, and makes others feel so known. I see his abiltiy to find gratitude in every situation; when I am so often, zoned into the discomfort and awkward and comparison and therefore always walk around with an unsettled feeling of pity or never being enough. Ivan doesn't have those struggles. The world sees him as different, but he just sees the world differently. We are supposed to be the wise ones teaching him how he is supposed to react to life, but sometimes I think we have it all wrong.
"But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
I try to remind myself of this verse whenever I am tempted to conform Ivan to fit into my skewed view of maturity and wisdom.
The world may look at him and see foolishness or weakness, but we serve a God who looks at him and sees true wisdom and strength.
This month we celebrate Thanksgiving, but in our family we also celebrate 6 years of having Ivan as a Maxwell. 6 years of truly learning what it looks like to be thankful in any and every circumstance. 6 years of simultaneously teaching Ivan he is safe in our love and being taught by him what unconditional love truly looks like.
When the world looks at this boy they will mistakenly see everything he lacks, but those who get to know Ivan realize how much we lack of the things that truly matter.